Former Nepal PM Sushil Koirala dies at 78; India lost a valued friend, says PM Modi

Sushil Koirala was suffering from a chronic respiratory problem and was also receiving treatment for "tongue cancer".

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Kathmandu | Updated: February 10, 2016 1:49 am
Sushil koirala, sushil koirala dead, sushil koirala profile, sushil koirala wikipedia, nepal congress sushil koirala, Sushil Koirala was suffering from a chronic respiratory problem and was also receiving treatment for “tongue cancer”. (Source: file photo)

The Koirala clan dominated Nepali politics for nearly seven decades and produced four Prime Ministers in the last five decades. Sushil Koirala, 78, who breathed his last early on Tuesday, was unlike the first three — M P Koirala, B P Koirala and G P Koirala — as he was from a different family, but because of his politics, upbringing, association and loyalty, he was never seen as an outsider. In fact, Sushil not only succeeded G P Koirala as the president of the Nepali Congress, but also moved to elder Koirala’s house following his death in March 2010 as a recognition of his being the patriarch of the dynasty.

While his clout, given his age and seniority within the clan was intact, Koirala was seen as losing his influence among the masses as well as the party, which is going to host its general assembly to elect its new leader in two weeks time. Koirala, despite his failing health — he was suffering from tongue cancer and acute respiratory problem — was keen to retain the post, but was facing formidable challenge from Sher Bahadur Deuba, another former prime minister.

Koirala had the image of being a “back-room boy” loyalist to G P Koirala, mainly after 1968 when they moved to India in political exile. From hijacking a Royal Nepal Airlines plane bound to Kathmandu from Biratnagar and “robbing” four million rupees to buy arms for the “political revolution” to dispatching guerrillas to Nepal, they were always together.

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Nepal’s advent to multi-party democracy and end of the King’s direct rule in 1990 established the influence of G P Koirala in the party organisation, with his cousin Sushil, allegedly doing everything to reduce the hold of two stalwarts — Ganeshman Singh and K P Bhattarai — the only two surviving founder members of the party. Singh and Bhattarai quit the party towards the end of their lives, leaving the G P-Sushil axis to run it their own way. Sushil exercised huge power, first as general secretary and then as working president under G P Koirala. After 2006, he got the legitimacy as he won the party chief’s election after senior Koirala’s death, and that of the Prime Minister in 2014.

The Nepali Congress, under his leadership, emerged as the largest party during the second constituent assembly election in November 2014, from a distant second in the 2008 polls. He was the natural choice for the Prime Minister’s position, and he declared that he would retire once the the delivery of the constitution was over.

His attempt to seek another term as PM ended in a defeat at the hand of K P Oli in October 2014. And despite his plummeting health, he was also seeking a re-election for the party president’s post.

Although, Oli went publicly against India on the “blockade”, it was Koirala who had declined to accept the suggestion of Narendra Modi to “go for wider consultation rather than by number in constitution making”.

Modi on Tuesday mourned the death of a “friend India valued”.

But more than his death creating a void, it was his action — during what turned out to be his last five months — that devalued his quiet struggle for six decades, and his greatest achievement (constitution delivery) as Prime Minister.